July 24, 2007

Harry Potter & The Order of the Phoenix

Adapting the longest Harry Potter novel into a watchable movie is a thankless task. Somehow, Brit TV director David Yates manages to create a more-than adequate feature film... and the shortest Potter movie to date. Our three young actors playing Harry, Ron, and Hermione are ageing gracefully. I find Emma Watson's acting a little mannered, but certainly more than acceptable. Imelda Staunton is great as Dolores Umbridge, even if I found her characteristic "cough/laugh" a little off. I really appreciated the changes in art and production design from the previous movie to this one: the Death Eaters masks are different, the Dementors are different, Sirius's fireplace conversation looks different, and Hogsmeade is changed radically. I really enjoyed the black brick look of the Ministry of Magic-- there's no reason for the whole wizarding world to look like either Arthurian legend or a Dickens novel.
Dramatic highlights include Harry's detention with Umbridge- the cute kitten plates and tinkling music box score add a creepy touch to the "lines" Harry writes in his own blood. Fred and George's departure from Hogwarts brings smiles and tears to my face. And finally, the battle at the Ministry, which I found needlessly confusing and overly complicated in the book, is reduced to its essential components and delivers a great visceral and emotional wallop.
Potter author J.K. Rowling has admitted her regret that the novel was not more tightly edited, and Yates fulfills her wishes on the big screen, by cutting out Quidditch and S.P.E.W, for example, plus several pleasant montages condense the school year into manageable chunks.
Unfortunately, the Order of the Phoenix is barely present in their eponymous movie, at the expense of several chop-worthy subplots. For example, I don't know why the thestrals are included in the film. For dramatic purposes, the winged horses give Harry and Luna something to bond over. Also, the thestrals are used by the D.A. to travel to the Ministry in the third act. They seem so easy to excise from the movie, that I wonder why they were kept in. There's plenty of other places where the movie does not faithfully recreate the book— thankfully none of the movies have been too faithful since Chamber of Secrets —so why not just cut them out? Another subplot which is totally unnecessary: Grawp, the centaurs, and the Forbidden Forest. The initial visit when Harry, Ron, and Hermione visit Hagrid and Grawp is a lengthy time-sink devoted to a dopey giant which is completely ancillary to the drama. The centaurs appearance is less of a waste of time but equally unnecessary. I suppose the writer and director could not figure out how to save Harry from Umbridge and her threatened Cruciatus curse without Grawp and the centaurs.
What's lost from the movie? The Order itself. Nymphadora Tonks, for example, has one line in the movie, and one brief scene goofing off at the Grimmauld Place dinner table. She has an important plotline with the Order and an upcoming romance, but she is only "on the radar" of this movie because Moody calls her by name, and two special effects are devoted to her. Her future husband Remus Lupin is also reduced to a supporting role, Kreacher gets one line because Rowling insisted he be retained, and I don't remember spotting Fletcher Mundungus at all. (July 15, Regal Fenway Stadium 13, with Amy and Adam; July 24, AMC Burlington with Em)